Writers — okay, some writers, and on judgey days I think mostly bad writers — like to wax poetic about how crazy they (we) are. There are a lot of ways to do it, because there are almost limitless ways to be crazy, or pretend to be crazy, when you’ve set yourself up as someone with the power to create entire worlds. Worse, writers tend to think they have the right to create entire worlds, because they have the capability.
Not that we don’t, but you can see how that kind of unconscious arrogance can open the door to a whole flood of self-assumed crazy.
Writers talk about being driven crazy by ideas, by creative compulsions, by writer’s block, by the creative process. Not to stomp on anyone else’s process (he says, stomping on it) but I tend to think about ninety percent of it is self-indulgent bullshit. I’ve never had any patience for people who claim their creativity controls them rather than vice versa. I have every sympathy with people who struggle to create, but if I see one more film about someone who’s spent the last two years suffering from writer’s block, I will throw something heavy at the screen.
I didn’t write for the first thirteen years of my life. I loved reading, but I wasn’t interested in that form of creativity. I actively avoided it — you would not believe the sulks I threw — and when I was in my twenties I chalked that up to well-meaning teachers trying to force creativity rather than just letting kids be creative. With more perspective, knowing that I’ve always been a shy person, I think I found the written word too revelatory. I wasn’t okay with sharing that much of myself. In some ways I’m still not; I’m embarrassed to write compelling scenes and strong emotions because they risk showing too much and it’s too easy for other people to use them to get to me, if they know how to go about it right.
The better you are at writing, the easier it is to hide all the weird emotional crap that everyone has but nobody wants to admit to. In inexperienced writers it’s easy to tell the part of the story that really gets them off, but the definition of a skilled writer is someone whose writing isn’t obvious. The thing is, that weird emotional crap is still there, and the writer knows it’s there. A fetish doesn’t have to be sexual; it can be narrative, and revealing that a certain situation or scene strokes your ego or satisfies your lizard hindbrain can be much more embarrassing than the stigma attached to having a kinky thing for exhibitionism or feet or whatever. People are much less squeamish about using emotional desires to manipulate or harm than they are about sexual ones. Some people don’t care if their freaky is public and visible, and that’s a very well-adjusted way to be because freaky is a dumb social construct meant to keep people in line, but I will be honest: I am not that well-adjusted. My kinks, literary, sexual, or otherwise, are private, and I like them that way. There are absolutely deep, messed-up reasons that I’ve spent a lot of time studying masks.
Every time I work on a book, sometime during the edits I start to just hate the hell out of it. There are plenty of reasons; boredom with prose I’ve read too many times, weariness of beating the same dead literary horse I’ve already spent months on, eagerness to be on to something new. I could talk a lot (and have) about the discipline a writer needs in order to serve the story, and the discipline to grit your teeth and push through the edits is a part of that, but I think the biggest reason I spend a phase hating my book is that I think everyone can see everything that’s wrong with it and thus everything that’s wrong with me.
Which is nonsense, and eventually I snap out of it. Most people who read my prose don’t notice the flaws I notice and wouldn’t give a sweet goddamn if they did, because they’re not actually out to get me. They might find flaws in the book, but they’re highly unlikely to be the same ones I see.
The first novel I went through this with, Nameless, I was genuinely worried I’d never like the book again. I did like it by the time I was done, and a few months ago I read it and was surprised by how much I still like it. Since that first time, I’ve been okay with hating the book. I know soon enough I’ll be done with that and I’ll have something really good on the other side. And frankly, I’d rather hate the book than hate myself. Seems more productive in the long run.
I don’t write to bare my soul — I think most good writers don’t, for the same reason they don’t talk about how crazy they are: they’re not interested in being obvious — but it tends to happen anyway. When it does, I’m grateful for the years I spent not-writing, because those years made me reasonably sensible, and that gets me through the messed-up parts of the process, so I can get back to the fun parts.